Sewer systems have traditionally been seen as simply a means of collecting and transporting wastewater. However, with advances in technology and the increasing importance of data analysis, they are now being viewed as valuable sources of information about the populations they serve.
One of the main ways sewer systems are used to gather information about populations is through the process of sampling and analysis. Sampling involves collecting a small portion of the wastewater either through a one-time grab sample or as a composite sample over time and analyzing it for various indicators including DNA. This can provide information about the demographics of the population, such as heritage, gender, health status, as well as data on their behaviors and habits, such as drug use and diet.
One of the key benefits of using sewer systems as a source of data is that they provide a more accurate picture of a population than traditional methods. For example, surveys and questionnaires rely on self-reported information, which can be unreliable. In contrast, data collected from sewer systems is less susceptible to bias and provides a more representative sample of the population.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards using big data techniques to analyze the information collected from sewer systems. This involves using powerful computers and sophisticated algorithms to process large amounts of data and extract meaningful insights. For example, data scientists might use machine learning algorithms to identify patterns and trends in the data, or to develop predictive models that can help forecast future trends.
These big data techniques of analyzing sewer systems can be beneficial but could also have a more ominous side as well. One beneficial application of data from sewer systems sampling is its use for monitoring public health outbreaks, such as the spread of infectious diseases like COVID, Flu, polio or other communicable diseases. The monitoring of a specific school building, dormitory, office building, or small campus can result in early detection and significantly reduced costs over individual testing. It can also be used to monitor drug use in a population and to develop targeted interventions to help people overcome addiction. Additionally, big data analysis can be used to inform decisions about health intervention programs and education.
On the more ominous side, this data could also be used by insurance companies to modify health and life insurance premiums or simply deny coverage for certain communities where data shows likely increased costs on the part of the insurance company. Another facet of the technology is its potential use in identifying the locations of specific individuals. Similar to genealogy websites such as ancestry.com or 23andMe, sewer systems could be used to look for specific individuals or their close relatives that may have been involved in crimes or paternity suits based on DNA matching, which could be detected through sewer system sampling.
The rise of big data in sewer systems is a testament to the growing importance of data analysis in our society. Sewer systems have long been an underutilized resource, but now they are becoming powerful tools for gathering information about populations and informing decisions. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more innovative applications of big data in sewer systems in the future. It all starts with the sampling and being able to accurately track sample collection location and shipping chain of custody to the laboratory and on to completing reports.
SampleServe specializes in software for both large and small volume sample collection and reporting programs in all kinds of media, including drinking water, groundwater, and sewer system sampling. If you are interested in moving your sampling program into the digital age to increase accuracy and efficiency, you can schedule a 45-min demo of our various sampling programs below and we can discuss your specific sampling application.